Bringing cheer to large sections who have been exploring options for short getaways amid the COVID-19 restrictions, the Forest Department has decided to open up more of its ecotourism destinations nine months after they were closed during the lockdown.
The tourist spots in the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary are set to reopen on Friday while the scenic hill station of Ponmudi will receive visitors from Saturday. The move comes amid growing clamour among local residents and travel enthusiasts to permit entry to the destinations that usually brim with crowds during the peak season. The ecotourism centres come under the purview of the Neyyar-Peppara forest development agency.
The elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre at Kottoor nearby has been receiving large numbers of visitors since it reopened on October 24.
According to Sandeep Kumar, assistant wildlife warden, Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, the department will operate ecotourism packages at Neyyar in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. The lion safari park package will involve a 20-minute boat cruise from the Neyyar information centre near the Neyyar dam to Kombai, from where visitors will be taken through the lion safari park on a bus. They will also be provided guided tours in the crocodile rehabilitation centre and the deer park before concluding the visit. The rates for the package are: Indian adult: ₹415, child: ₹210, foreign adult: ₹585, child: ₹335.
A bus jumbo safari package will also include a visit to the elephant rehabilitation centre at Kottoor along with the aforementioned spots. The popular 6-km trek to the scenic Meenmutty falls (at rates of ₹965 for Indian citizens and ₹1,379 for foreigners) from Neyyar will also get under way. Entry will be permitted to the facilities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on all days except Mondays.
The night-stay programme offered by the department will remain suspended until the renovation of huts in the interior forests is completed in January.
Forest officials have permitted access to the Ponmudi hilltop under stringent conditions to prevent crowding in the area.
Visitors will be able to go through the Ponmudi check-post from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be required to leave the station before 6 p.m. Vehicles will be examined for liquor, tobacco products, and narcotic substances.
Palode range forest officer Ajith Kumar B. said that the Ponmudi Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS) would streamline the influx of visitors and ensure that the pandemic norms were met.
The entry time would be cut short for the rest of the day if and when crowds became uncontrollable, he said.